In a letter hand-delivered on February 28, from Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller John Naimo to Caren Carl Mandoyan—the former Los Angeles County deputy who was reinstated in mid-January by Sheriff Alex Villanueva—Mandoyan was ordered to turn in his badge and gun.
“You are not authorized to serve as a county employee,” the letter said tersely.
Mandoyan was discharged from the LA County Sheriff’s Department on September 14, 2016, for allegations of domestic abuse, stalking, and spying on his ex-girlfriend, who was at the time also a deputy also working at the department. His termination was upheld by the county’s Civil Service Commission.
Former deputy Mandoyan was reportedly a prominent presence in the new sheriff’s campaign, and also during the post-election transition period. He was also one of those most visible on the stage during the sheriff’s swearing in ceremony.
During the early weeks of the new sheriff’s tenure, Mandoyan was the first person to be re-instated by Villanueva as part of his post-election plans to launch a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission, which would review the cases of potentially wrongly terminated deputies—although at the time of Mandoyan’s reinstatement the promised commission had yet to be formed.
However, the letter from the auditor-controller, which WitnessLA has obtained, informed Mandoyan that Sheriff Villanueva “was without authority” to settle his case “on behalf of the County.” That authority was vested solely in County Counsel and the LA County Board of Supervisors, Naimo stated.
“For that reason, your agreement with the department is void.”
And later in the letter, Naimo repeated the information in a different way, in case Mandoyan missed the point.
“As such, your reinstatement was unlawful,” he wrote
Sheriff ignores the county’s directive
One of the most surprising parts of Auditor-Controller’s message to Mandoyan came near the letter’s end, when Naimo stated that the sheriff had been informed that the former deputy’s rehiring was “unlawful” on February 20, 2019—eight days before the turn-in-your-badge-and-firearm letter was delivered to the former deputy.
But the sheriff reportedly did not act on the February 20 letter that informed him, among other things, that “all salary, payments, and other benefits” to Mandoyan would be stopped as of February 22, at 5 p.m..
Then, in a subsequent closed-door session with the board of supervisors last Tuesday, the sheriff and the board talked further in person, at which time the supervisors reportedly reiterated the news that Mandoyan did not work for the county.
Weirdly, however, the next day, on Wednesday, February 27, Sheriff Villanueva held a 9 a.m. press conference where he was asked by ABC 7 reporter, Miriam Hernandez, for an update on the Mandoyan case.
“The status is he remains employed by the organization,” replied Villanueva. “His case was vetted thoroughly.”
So, said Hernandez in a follow-up, then the sheriff wasn’t concerned that he’d have to fight to keep Mandoyan’s reinstatement.
“No,” Villanueva replied. “We’re not going to fight for that at all.”
(ABC 7’s Lisa Bartley, Adrienne Alpert, and Miriam Hernandez first reported the letter’s existence.)
The struggle over who has the power
Since Mandoyan’s controversial return to the LASD in January—which was to include payment of any past salary and benefits the former deputy had not received due to his firing—the issue of his reinstatement without any kind of transparent process has been the cause of escalating discord between Villanueva and the board of supervisors.
The conflict became public on the morning of Tuesday, January 29, when Villanueva showed up unannounced at the board’s weekly meeting to defend his decision to reinstate Mandoyan. It seems he decided to attend the meeting after learning that the board was scheduled to vote a motion sponsored by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Sheila Kuehl, having to do with the rehiring of Mandoyan, which Barger and Kuehl wrote had been “the subject of serious debate and concern” because of the way Villanueva seemed to unilaterally decide to reinstate the allegedly abusive deputy, without any easily discernible process.
With the Barger/Kuel motion, the board took the unusual step of directing the county’s chief executive officer to send “a 5-signature letter” to the sheriff that, among other things, requested his reconsideration of the rehiring and a response to the board’s concerns.
Villanueva pre-empted the letter by his appearance at the public meeting, and things went downhill from there.
“Every employee of LA County is an employee of this board,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told Villanueva after greeting him . “And it is not the case that any department head, including that of the sheriff—though you’re independently elected—can simply do anything they want after there’s been a finding by the civil service commission that uphold a termination.”
Any other department, according to Kuehl “would have to go court” in order to have such a firing overturned.
“So I really want us to be able to clarify that because none of us is so independent that we can do anything we damn well please.”
Villanueva responded by telling board that the department he inherited had “undermined the entire integrity of the civil service system” and had financially “incentivized” civil services hearing officers to rule “in favor of the county.”
(Mandoyan’s termination had been unanimously upheld by the civil service commission, an oversight body that is generally considered to tilt in the direction of deputies, not management, counter to what Mandoyan claimed to the supervisors.)
It didn’t help the supervisors’ perspective on the matter that, earlier in January, the sheriff told the LASD’s Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) that, among the reasons he felt the charges against Mandoyan were suspect, was the fact that female deputy involved waited a year before reporting her ex’s alleged actions, then resigned from the department before testifying at his 2017 civil service hearings. Since victims of domestic abuse often delay reporting assaults—if they report the attacks at all—because of the fear and shame they experience, this rationale did not sit well with the board at all.
(The female deputy has since left the department.)
On Sunday, WitnessLA received a statement by Sheriff Villanueva regarding the Mandoyan issue, in which he wrote as follows:
“This personnel matter is under review and will be decided through the legal employment process. While the specific facts of this case are protected under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and civil service procedures, I can assure that an objective, honest, and fair assessment was conducted before reinstatement. We will let the process continue forward as we work to determine the final outcome.”
Editor’s Update 3-4-2019, 3:22 p.m:
The County of Los Angeles and the LA County Board of Supervisors have filed what is called a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus against Sheriff Alex Villanueva regarding his reinstatement of former LASD deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan, which the board maintains is unlawful.
Mandoyan’s attorney, Greg Smith, believes otherwise. “We’re going to win this case,” he told WitnessLA, on Monday.
Villanueva was reportedly served on Sunday with an order to appear in LA County Superior Court, at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown LA on Wednesday* in front of Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff.
The County’s lawsuit was filed after the sheriff refused to carry out an order issued by the county on February 20, telling Sheriff Villanueva that his reinstatement of Carl Mandoyan was “unlawful,” and that Mandoyan must turn in his badge and his weapon. The sheriff declined to do so.
*The hearing in Superior Court that was originally to be held on Tuesday, has been rescheduled for Wednesday.
More in a separate story coming.